© Reuters. Immigration inspection officers in protective suits check a tanker carrying imported crude oil at the port in Qingdao, Shandong province, China May 9, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS
By Chen Aizhu
(Reuters) – China’s imports from top supplier Saudi Arabia soared 38% in April from a year earlier, hitting the highest monthly volume since May 2020, according to Reuters’ calculations based on official Chinese customs data.
Saudi shipments amounted to 8.93 million tonnes last month, equivalent to 2.17 million barrels per day (bpd), according to data from the Chinese General Administration of Customs.
The hefty purchases, with trades completed mostly in February, compare with 1.61 million bpd in March and 1.57 million bpd a year earlier.
Imports from second-largest supplier Russia rose a more modest 4% last month from a year earlier, with cargoes booked before western governments toughened sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Russian oil arrivals in April totalled 6.55 million tonnes, or 1.59 million bpd, data showed, up slightly from 1.5 million bpd in March and 1.53 million bpd a year earlier.
China’s overall crude oil imports last month rose nearly 7% on the year, the first rise in three months, although widespread COVID-19 lockdowns crimped fuel demand and dampened refinery output.
Friday’s data showed zero imports in April from Iran. However, customs next month is likely to report for May the import of nearly 2 million barrels of Iranian oil that was being discharged this week into a reserve base in south China.
Despite U.S. sanctions on Iran, China has kept taking Iranian oil, usually passed off as supplies from other countries. The import levels are roughly equivalent to 7% of China’s total crude oil imports.
Iranian oil, often priced lower than competing grades, has squeezed out rival supplies from producers such as from Brazil and West Africa.
Customs reported zero imports from Venezuela, as state oil firms shunned purchases since late 2019 for fear of falling afoul of secondary U.S. sanctions.
Imports from Malaysia, often used as a transfer point in the last two years for oil originating from Iran and Venezuela, jumped 84% on year to 2.165 million tonnes, the second highest on record.
Separately, data also showed China’s imports of Russian liquefied (LNG) in April were up 80% from a year earlier to 462,975 tonnes, the highest monthly amount in six months, despite a sharp fall in the country’s total imports of the fuel.
China’s overall LNG imports last month slid 34.5% to 4.35 million tonnes, the slowest since March 2020 as importers shunned pricey global spot supplies.
Below is the detailed breakdown of oil imports, with volumes in million tonnes:
Country April y/y Jan-April y/y
Saudi 8.932 38 30.4 3.5
Russia 6.551 4 25.61 -7
Iraq 4.089 -8 18.85 4
Angola 2.781 -10 11.69 -10
Brazil 2.435 -13 8.79 -25
United 0.748 -19 3.27 -43
Malaysia 2.165 84 6.23 21
Iran 0 0.26
Venezuela 0 0
Oman 2.975 16 14.98 0.1
UAE 3.096 66 12.22 21
(tonne = 7.3 barrels for crude oil conversion)